With most of his mind freed up by simply following the cascading motion of his own momentum, Randidly was able to slap some much needed stop-gap fixes onto his heavily damaged image. There wasn’t any immediately noticeable healing, but the edges of Randidly’s will did stop annoyingly drifting away as he struggled to continue.
Fuck… that was much closer than I would have liked…
Randidly thought through the pounding of his headache.
I can’t believe I’m still upright…
Stemming the worst of the mental wounds, in turn, freed up a few more iotas of his mental strength and allowed Randidly to perform a few quick repairs and return his image to an even more stable state. Of course, this healing progress wasn’t free; while Randidly was carefully fixing himself and rushing headlong forward, the soldiers that followed him were furiously repelling the attacks of the Nether Beasts. It seemed that they no longer felt the need to wait to amass before attacking. They were simply flowing forward like an unending river that battered at them from every angle.
And Randidly was leading the charging group of soldiers directly upstream.
Who the fuck decided to put the exit point on the exact opposite side of the base from where we arrived,
Randidly thought grimly.
We have to push directly through their main forces to escape… And if I’m doing that while I’m trying to recover…
Randidly barely was able to keep up a basic perception scanning the surrounding area while they continued their mad dash. Not that there was any real point to it; He didn’t even bother to make even the slightest evasive maneuvers. Such an expenditure would quickly bankrupt his already overworked mind. When he looked too far forward, his vision seemed to shake as his mind couldn’t smooth out the rapid changes in information that he was receiving.
Too much was going on at once. The Nether Beasts were too numerous.
His brain hitting a limit was obviously not a good sign. But it just went to show how well guarded the base of the Nether Gatekeeper was. Although the number of foes Randidly had fought on this mission were small, they were all elites that he had defeated only by relying on his abilities with both Nether and Aether, not because he was more powerful than them. Perhaps even more troublesome was all the extremely dense Nether he had to swim through to travel around the area. Most of the time they had a protective image to take the edge off of it, but the most dangerous battles always meant that Nether was pushed through the protective image to eat directly at his body.
Pressing his eyes closed, Randidly allowed his own momentum to carry him forward. He really needed to steady himself. For a split second, his entire focus confronted the gruesome task of giving his entire remaining image a scan to determine if there were any areas that would be easily repairable. Because that was exactly what he needed.
Unfortunately. Randidly didn’t see any easy fixes. His heart sank. But as his attention stayed for several seconds, Randidly discovered something extremely strange occurring within himself.
His image body was healing automatically. It was slow, but even with the continued corrosion of Nether it was definitely happening.
Randidly’s eyes flicked open in shock. But when no obvious explanations for that sudden change presented themselves, worries began to congregate in his heart. A frown creased his face as he continued to rush forward.
Now that he considered the past couple of encounters more directly, it was extremely strange that he had been able to stabilize himself after being weakened and then smashed backward by the collision between Vualla and the Nether Wells. That alone should have knocked him out. Plus, Randidly then handled several seconds of the inner portion of his image being blasted by the Nether Well without any ill-effects at all.
Due to how quickly each of those events had occurred, Randidly hadn’t been able to pay much attention to them. He had just been thankful that he had been able to pull through the trials. But honestly…
Trying his best to ignore the grunts and groans of the soldiers following him, Randidly did his best to calm his mind and quickly find the source of this healing.
Once he knew what he was looking for, it didn’t take long to find the culprit. However, when he first traced the strange, healing reverberations, he couldn’t believe what he saw. From his two cores, an ambient warmth was spreading outward through thin tendrils of Nether that brushed against the wounded portions of his image.
When Randidly examined the cores more closely, he was shocked to realize that there was a faint outline of his prior image hovering inside of them, an exact replica of the image he possessed before coming to the Great Rift today.
Of course, the bubble doesn’t matter as much as the core. The outward image is maintained by the energy flowing outward to form the bubble. Which might also be a reason that too many cores begin to bog down a physical body; its attempting to heal the bubble to its prior form, but the body resists the change naturally. To the body, it just feels like a strange foreign image. But since I am a relatively more malleable image…
As Randidly’s awareness brushed up against the cores, a strange certainty filled him that he had no way of explaining; if he were to bring his cores to touch the edge of the ‘bubble’ around him, it would take a snapshot of his current image that would be the source of healing henceforth.
Obviously, that would be a waste at the moment, as those two cores steadily sending energy toward his image was the only reason he had maintained his clarity to this point. But it was a good reassurance that Randidly wouldn’t be stuck with his current image forever.
The only problem was that this would technically put a stop to the rather productive process of having the Grim Chimera image ground down to nothing and then steadily built back up again. However, sometimes long term growth needed to take a back seat for current survival. And considering the constant attacks that the Nether Beasts were launching toward them, Randidly could worry about becoming even more powerful at another time.
The growing noise of combat made Randidly groan and force his eyes open. His mouth twisted as he glanced behind him and noticed that two of the previously injured soldiers were not following along with the group any longer; it appeared that they had been completely killed by the barrage of attacks. Even more concerning was the fact that their formation was slowly spreading out as those who were protecting Randidly couldn’t keep up with him and his continued mad dash.
Once the formation fell apart, it became that much easier for the Nether Beasts to pick off the stragglers.
Some part of Randidly wanted to go assist with the fighting, but for all that he was delighted by the healing from his cores, it was a gradual thing. It would be quite some time before Randidly was safely away from devolving into an image blob. And that was exactly what he would become if he was overstrained at the moment.
Sure, he could kill things as an image blob, but all of the growth he had so carefully experienced since arriving at the battlefront would collapse into nothing. Which wasn’t even considering the damage that the main body might experience if the Grim Chimera image that Randidly held was destroyed.
For all that the main body had been pissing him off, Randidly didn’t want to be the cause of such a blow against it. Beyond the battlefield there was still the Earth and the System; he couldn’t afford to lose here.
While trying to turn a deaf ear to the intense fighting continuing behind him, Randidly glanced down at Vualla in his arms. It was difficult to carry Vualla in a comfortable position with one of his arms being a long bone spear and the other one being an oversized claw. Still, Randidly did his best with his arms and used his larger lower tail to wrap around Vualla’s waist and keep her relatively secure.
She was breathing peacefully, blissfully unaware that her soldiers were fighting and dying around her. Her braid had begun to come slightly undone, so several strands of azure hair fell down along her strong jaw. And strangely, Randidly felt slowly easing into a smile as he looked down at her. A moment passed then, completely isolated from the frantic death around them. Randidly felt some tension in his chest ease somewhat as he saw that Vualla remained alright despite their frantic flight.
As long as she is okay…
With gleeful eyes, Randidly raised his head once more. Another soldier had disappeared in the rain of Nether Beasts; there were now only six of them remaining with Randidly and Vualla both so out of commission that they couldn’t assist with the continued threat of Nether Beasts. Above and below their rapidly moving convoy thick trunks of blue veins spiraled outward like geysers of water.
These two thick geysers ran parallel with their group, both hemming them in and forcing them forward. And the Nether Beasts were the droplets of moisture that dripped off of these geysers and rushed toward the group in uncountable numbers.
Fortunately, whatever transformation that enabled Kel’ev to resist a Nether Well directly also transformed him into a killing machine. He was more shadow than even the Grim Chimera as he flitted back and forth and ripped forcibly through the Nether Beasts that were massing around the group. The other soldiers really just needed to clean up the scraps; it was only by Kel’ev’s will that they had made it this far.
Randidly also couldn’t help to note two facts: the first was that the strange transformation had progressed past just Kel’ev’s arm. Now his entire torso had inflated and was bristling with orange-tipped quills. Second, and even more shocking, Randidly couldn’t feel even the slightest hint of an image from him as he went about his deadly work.
An image was clearly present; the Nether Beasts were reduced to dust just by the ambient image of his presence as he passed near them. But such was the tight control that Kel’ev kept over his image that none of it seeped toward Randidly.
In a way, it was just as impressive as Vualla’s enormous show of power.
Randidly released a hissing breath between his teeth as he continued to hurtle forward through the Great Rift. His senses expanded rapidly to check their progress.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Sensation (L) has grown to Level 34!
Randidly’s eyes opened once more. They had already punched through the middle portion of the base and were moving to areas that had less abundant Nether. But all of these areas were covered in blue veins which meant that the ambushes wouldn’t be slowing anytime soon.
And even worse than that…
Everyone shuddered and slowed as a wave of concentrated rage blasted outward. Hundreds of blue veins spiraled down about two hundred meters directly in front of them and formed a strange pulsing sigil in the air. Nether began to rapidly rush forward to support the strange working.
“We need-” Kel’ev began, but the portal opened before he could finish.
Two long tentacles as thick as a tree trunk that ended in brutal obsidian spikes slithered through the sudden opening. Nether gushed out like air conditioning from a department store, quickly affecting the surrounding area. Then the Nether Gatekeeper began to heave the rest of his body out into their path.